Jordan aspires to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes and believes that unless all sides move quickly toward a peace settlement in the region, the recent confrontation in Lebanon is only a hint of disasters to come. In an exclusive interview with Haaretz on Thursday, King Abdullah II of Jordan spoke with Akiva Eldar:
"I can say that on behalf of the U.S. president and the secretary of state, and I've talked to both, that they're very serious and very committed to moving the peace process forward, because they realize the dynamics of the region at the moment.
"And this is the opportunity to reach out to the Palestinians and the Israelis and say, look, this is the golden chance and to an extent, maybe the last possibility. We had a conflict this summer.
"The frequency of conflict in this region is extremely alarming, and the perception, I believe, among Arabs, and partly among Israelis, is that in the summer Israel lost this round... And that creates a very difficult and a very dangerous precedence for radical thinking in the area. The stakes are getting higher and higher.
"So this is an opportunity to reach out to each other and make sure that the crisis of this summer doesn't happen again. If we don't move the peace process forward, it's only a matter of time until there is a conflict between Israel and somebody else in the region. And I think it's coming sooner rather than later.
"We all need to work together, because solving the Israeli-Palestinian problem allows us to tackle the other issues around us. All of us are looking at Iraq with concern, we don't know what's going to happen in Lebanon, although we hope that they're moving in the right direction... Whether people like it or not, the linchpin is always the Israeli-Palestinian problem."
Do you see a clear link between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iranian nuclear threat and the threat of terrorism?
"Through Hamas, Iran has been able to buy itself a seat on the table in talking about the Palestinian issue. And, as a result, through Hamas it does play a role in the issue of the Palestinians, as strange as that should sound.
"If we start moving the process forward, then there's less reason for engagement on the Palestinian issue.
"But, the rules have changed on the nuclear subject throughout the whole region. Where I think Jordan was saying, 'we'd like to have a nuclear-free zone in the area,' after this summer, everybody's going for nuclear programs.
"The Egyptians are looking for a nuclear program. The GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] are looking at one, and we are actually looking at nuclear power for peaceful and energy purposes. We've been discussing it with the West.
"I personally believe that any country that has a nuclear program should conform to international regulations and should have international regulatory bodies that check to make sure that any nuclear program moves in the right direction."
In other words, you're saying that you expect Israel to join the NPT.
"What's expected from us should be a standard across the board. We want to make sure this is used for energy. What we don't want is an arms race to come out of this. As we become part of an international body and its international regulations are accepted by all of us, then we become a united front."
Would you first deal with the Palestinian track and then move on to the Syrian-Lebanese track?
"Syria seems to be of tremendous interest in the Israeli public opinion, but I think that the priority, if you want to get the guarantees that Israel wants for a stable future, the core issue takes the priority. We have to launch the Palestinian process and then hope that things will go easier with the other players.
"You have to start with the Palestinian first and look at the other ones as a close second. I would hedge my bets on how successful the other tracks would be if the Palestinian one is not solved. And, we don't know how much of a smokescreen the other tracks would be and if we don't get the right nuances for what we need on the ground for the next year, then the future for us looks extremely dismal, for all of us in the region, if we don't move the process along.
"What happened this summer is just a taste of a lot of worse things to come if we don't change the direction of this discord.
"We're all on the same boat. The security and the future of Jordan is hand-in-hand with the future of the Palestinians and the Israelis. ... So, a failure for us is a failure for you, and vice versa."
How do you think the Americans should further the process?
"You have the road map, you have Taba, you have the Geneva Accords. So, we don't have to go back to the drawing board. Most of us know the facts and the issues extremely well. My only issue about the road map is that circumstances have changed since the road map was launched, and the sort of long drawn out phase approach, I don't think works anymore. So, we're looking at combining phases, I think, to move people as quickly as possible. The silent majority can be easily intimidated or swayed. And, I promise you, if tomorrow, [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert and President [Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud] Abbas sit down and shake hands and launch a peace process, there'll be extremists on either side that create violence and loss of life to try and destabilize the conflict. That is a given. We have to be stronger than that to be able to move the process forward."
Would you suggest we go back to Yitzhak Rabin's formula: to pursue the peace process as if there were no terrorism, and to fight terrorism as if there were no peace process?
"I personally believe that my father's last biggest disappointment and sadness to him was that he lost a partner for peace. And, he believed that if PM Rabin hadn't been assassinated, we wouldn't be talking about a peace process today. In the last years of His Majesty's life, I saw him looking at the Middle East and realizing that there wasn't somebody with the courage to be able to take the process forward. It is our responsibility to move it forward.
"His late Majesty, when he started discussions with prime minister Rabin, they both looked at it the same way, I mean these were two statesmen that looked at it from an emotional point of view, in that 'who is my partner on the other side? What are his fears and his insecurities?' If I could put myself in his shoes then I could understand what to negotiate ... it was a unique relationship between His Majesty and Rabin. When it came to the Arab-Israeli Peace Initiative, we tried to do the same thing. An agreed solution on the issue of refugees.
"Why do we want a two-state solution? We want a two-state solution because we envisage the future of Israel not just having borders with Jordan, Syria or Egypt. The future of Israelis, if I was to put myself in your shoes, is to be welcomed from Morocco on the Atlantic to Oman on the Indian Ocean. I think that is the prize for the Israelis. But that comes at a price and that is the future of the Palestinians. So although we're talking politics, I think that we have a physical problem and we're running out of time, maybe the wall, maybe the settlements, the lack of hope for the Palestinians will bring us to a point in time in the near future where a two-state solution is no longer anything concrete to talk about, then what happens? If we don't solve the Israeli-Palestinian issue, then we may never be able to solve the Arab-Israeli issue. Is this what we want to give our children? Do they have to be brought up like we were brought up ... in conflict or do we want to give them hope?"
If you were Israel's prime minister, would you settle for a hudna?
"I mean, you talk about the hudna. Tell me what you mean about hudna. If you and I have a problem and we want to go to the endgame, then we say, let's hold off with each other so we can have an atmosphere to sit down and talk. If it's a hudna, you do your thing and I do my thing for x amount of years and then we'll decide what happens. No, that doesn't solve the problem. In my vocabulary, a hudna is a truce that allows people to sit around the table to solve the problem, which I believe is a two-state solution, then I support that type of hudna. But a hudna to say you mind your business and I'll mind mine for an indefinite period of time really doesn't get us anywhere, does it?"
But in our case, Hamas insists on its refusal to recognize even our right to exists. So, what kind of solution can we talk to Hamas about?
"But, if you've noticed, and I'm not agreeing with either side, but even the language recently coming from Hamas, even from the Damascus bureau, is quite interesting. Palestinians are suffering terribly, and I have major concerns. I hear from Israeli politicians that we don't have a partner for peace. But the clock is ticking and we're running out of opportunity.
"Palestinians tend to ask, where is the Arab street? Where are the Arab leaders? We've always been there to support the Palestinians and a two-state solution, but today, where are the Palestinians for themselves? My concern is that as we're trying to move the process forward, it may be the Palestinians that may lose the future of Palestine if they don't get their act together, if they don't put their differences aside. At the end of the day, a cohesive Palestinian leadership that can negotiate the future of Palestine is what's needed today, and if we don't have that in six months or a year, then there may not be a two-state solution and I fear that the Palestinians may be the ones to lose."
There are Israeli politicians who say that publicly Jordan supports a full-fledged Palestinian state, but off-the-record that it is not very excited about having a Palestinian state right there in the Jordan valley and would rather have Israel on the other side of its border. What would you say to them?
"I do not know anybody, any Jordanian, who would say that there is a shred of common sense to that. The true future of our little area is going to be Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian, and it has to be separate entities. There are also Israelis who want to push the problem to Jordan. An independent Palestinian state allows us a different future of how we move economically, socially and even politically."
Jordan never gave up playing a constructive role in the holy cities of Jerusalem. Do you see a Jordanian role in Jerusalem as part of a final status solution?
"I look at Jerusalem as being a beacon for the three monotheistic religions. Now, where Jordan plays a role is obviously from a Muslim point of view, we, as Hashemites, have a historical role in Jerusalem, but also all the Christian churches are credited to us. So, there is obviously a role for Jordan in finding a solution to Jerusalem that is acceptable to all of us. Jordan will be a very positive element in that."
You're in a very special position, because Jordan is caught right in the middle of two conflicts: Iraq and Palestine. Is the solution for Iraq sending more troops?
"Iraq is a challenge that is as important to Jordan as it is to Israel, as it is to Egypt, as it is to any other country - and to the U.S.
"All we can say about Iraq is that the president has listened to the Maliki government. He's come up with a statement saying, I'm going to benchmark you, but you need to make some major changes. "
Next month marks eight years since your coronation. You haven't visited us yet. When are you coming to Israel?
"We're hoping that in the near future, and that could be weeks or maybe in a month or two, there'll be an opportunity to re-launch our final chance for a future for all of us in the region. And, if we're successful in doing that, then this will allow me to come and visit, and to try and bring the parties closer and closer together. I'm quite willing to explain the Arab proposal to the Israeli people and to create an internal dialogue about this issue. The Arabs are coming to say we want peace, and we want formal relations. And, as a human being, I can't understand how anybody would not want that.
"We look at the neighborhood and we're all concerned. But, the people who need to be equally concerned are the Israelis and sometimes, they see the conflict happening in the Middle East and think well, that's not our problem. But unfortunately, everything that happens in the Middle East is interlinked. And so, this is a challenge we all face."